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Interview with Marcia Meara

A: Marcia interviewed me over on her blog last week, so I figured it was time to interview her here in exchange.  I gave Marcia a firm admonition to answer each question with only one paragraph, and she said she'd do her best.  Welcome to Marcia Meara, author of Wake-Robin Ridge, Swamp Ghosts, and Summer Magic!  Marcia, would you mind telling us a little about yourself and why you started to write?

Marcia MearaM: Great to be here, thanks.  I can't remember when I didn't want to write.  At five, I was filling yellow legal tablets with poems about cowboys and horses, and by twelve, I had mapped out a future that included living on the beach with dozens of cats, painting and writing all day long.  I do have cats, and I've lived on the beach, and painted, as well.  But I never got back to the writing, having been told it was a silly pursuit and no way for a woman to make a living. I'm 70 now--a grandmother twice over--and one day I realized if I still wanted to write, I could darn well do it.  So I sat down, wrote my first novel, Wake-Robin Ridge, then taught myself to format and self-publish it.  I followed that by publishing a book of poetry, Summer Magic, and this month, I published my second novel, Swamp Ghosts.  It's the most fulfilling thing I've ever done, and I don't plan to stop any time soon.  I'm already working on sequels to both of my novels, and have several new poems done for my next volume of poetry.

A: I think the stories I wrote at that age were about cats, not cowboys, but your childhood sounds familiar.  Were you a big reader as well as a young writer?  If so, what were your favorite books read during your formative years?

Wake-Robin RidgeM: I was BORN a voracious reader, I think.  I read and wrote before kindergarten.  As a child, I read all of the horse and dog books out there: Black Stallion series, Black Beauty, Lassie series.  Then I started the Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, Hardy Boys mysteries.  But by the time I was in third grade, I had read everything our children's library had to offer, and my mother was faced with skimming through books in the adult section that she felt were suitable for a nine-year old to read, so I advanced into grown-up fiction pretty early.  (Easier to do in those days, when a single swear word could get a book banned.)  My mother wanted me to spend more time outdoors, so I would hide books under my shirt, climb a tree in the backyard, and read all day, undetected.  She was happy, and I was, too.  After I turned twelve, I read everything I could get my hands on from Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, to Bram Stoker's Dracula, to anything and everything by Daphne du Maurier, including my all-time favorite book, Rebecca.  I loved Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, and all the gothic romances, especially if they were set on the moors in England or Wales.  There really was nothing I wouldn't read, though, and I always adored poetry, as well, being especially fond of Poe's The Raven, and The Bells, and everything by Amy Lowell.  Ray Bradbury was a huge favorite, and later, Stephen King, until I discovered Dean Koontz, and switched my allegiance.  Vampires would get my attention every time, even as a very young girl, and today's glut of Urban Fantasy makes my heart happy, though I still read plenty of other things, as well.

A: That's quite an eclectic collection of books!  Many writers seem to be torn between writing what they know and writing what they read.  Do you feel live you've found a happy middle ground between the two options?  Are your books based more upon your experiences or upon the worlds you read about?

Swamp GhostsThese days, I read more Urban Fantasy than anything else, just for the pure escapism of it.  I like really well-thought out supernatural or paranormal worlds, but frankly, I have no idea how to go about creating them, myself.  I tend to go with what I know, instead, and at my age (70), I feel I do know a thing or two about love and loss, so I lean toward Romantic Suspense.  Straight romance doesn't interest me as much as romance with an element of danger does.  But I feel perfectly entitled to throw in some spooky stuff here and there, too, if the mood hits, as it did in Wake-Robin Ridge.  If I think I can pull off a "Woo-Woo Moment," and it adds an interesting element to the book, I'll go for it.  But at heart, my books--at least so far--are more love stories than anything else.  A lot of my own experience does go into that, but even more goes into the settings.  I love the North Carolina mountains more than any place I've been (so far) in the world, and feel I can do that setting justice.  So that's where I've envisioned the fictional town of Darcy's Corner, and the mountain known as Wake-Robin Ridge.  And I know the rivers and wildlife of central Florida pretty thoroughly, too, having canoed many, many miles on them.  So that's the setting for Swamp Ghosts, in the fictional town of Riverbend.  The next Darcy's Corner book will be a sequel to Wake-Robin Ridge, bringing back Sarah and Mac in a whole new story.  And the next Riverbend novel will be a (mostly) stand-alone book called Hunter, which features one of the characters introduced in Swamp Ghosts. Both Darcy's Corner and Riverbend have become very real places to me, and I wouldn't mind writing several more books set in each location.

A: Writing (and reading) series is an interesting topic.  From a self-publishing standpoint, series have a lot to recommend them since you build up a fan-base who will (hopefully) want to read each subsequent installment.  But series also have the potential problem of creating a barrier to entry late in the series if you use the same protagonist throughout --- people want to start at the beginning.  And it can also be tough to keep your writing fresh and character-driven if you use the same protagonist for each book in a series.  How did you decide to get around these problems in your upcoming novels?  And, as a bonus question, which series have you read that have dealt with these issues in a fashion you really enjoyed?

So much to ponder, here.  First of all, I'm not sure late entry into a series is really a barrier.  For myself, nothing makes me happier than to start at Book 1 and read straight through an entire series, back to back, with no waiting a year for the next book.  And I know I'm not alone in that.  So I think that one's a toss-up.  Now keeping your characters fresh is tougher.  I think the best series do that in two ways.  First, the character has to grow and adapt.  Emotionally, in more realistic series, or perhaps via new powers or skills in the paranormal worlds.  And second, I think the best series have new and exciting plot lines in each book, related to previous books, yes, but with new situations and problems to be dealt with.  If an author can provide character growth and ever-expanding plot lines, then I think they will have a successful series.  Jim Butcher's Dresden Files comes to mind as my favorite example of a character whose personal growth has continued through each book, along with his wizardly power and strength.  Plus the plots get bigger and more compelling with each Summer Magicbook, too.  It's an amazing series.  Others I love would include Ilona Andrews' Kate Daniels series, Kim Harrison's Hollows series, Rachel Caine's Weather Warden series, and her YA Morganville Vampire series, Patricia Briggs' Mercy Thompson series, and her Alpha & Omega series, the Eileen Wilks World of the Lupi series, and Dean Koontz's wonderful Odd Thomas series.  All Urban Fantasies, and all with excellent growth and development of characters and plot lines.

Bonus question, bonus paragraph. For myself, I never intended to write an actual ongoing series featuring the same characters.  My goal was to feature a different character in each book, telling the stories of other people in Darcy's Corner, or in Riverbend.  I've discovered while writing my two published novels that minor characters can catch my attention, and let me know they have a story that needs to be told, too.  In the case of Swamp Ghosts, there is a quirky friend of the hero who tugged at my heart in every scene he was in.  I knew early on that he needed his own book.  With Wake-Robin Ridge, there was a minor character working at a local diner I wanted to get back to, but before I could make that happen, I realized Sarah & Mac's story wasn't quite over, after all.  Hence the sequel, in their case.  But for the most part, I'm planning to write books that can stand alone, though there will be some overlap of characters, since both of my settings are small, and everyone knows everyone else.  Those who have read Swamp Ghosts and know the next book will be about Hunter Painter, have told me they can't wait to learn more about him, since they liked him so much.  So reading them in order would be ideal.  That way, you'd go into the second book knowing a bit about the main character already.  But I don't think it would be a necessity.  Hope that makes sense.

A: Thanks for such thoughtful replies, Marcia (and for doing your very best to keep each answer to a paragraph).  As you can tell, Marcia has a lot more to say, so why not check out her books, or subscribe to her blog Bookin' It?  She plans to interview authors every Wednesday, so you're bound to find out about books you've never heard of (but should have) if you drop by midweek.  Enjoy!

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